As the AOL Time Warner board met last week to discuss the company's management, cash flow and stock problems, the publishing industry quietly wondered about the fate of Warner Books.
The New York Daily News reported that the sale of Warner Books might be part of one shakeup scenario. But in conversations with publishing experts, many noted there are relatively few companies that could afford the entire book division, and even fewer that would find it a good fit. The trade unit, which includes Warner Books and Little, Brown, owns some of publishing's most sizable contracts.
"Bertelsmann could afford it, but the question is: Do they want to expand?" said one professional. Disney was another name to come up; the company is one of the few conglomerates with a relatively small books presence. Insiders also noted that Hyperion's list lines up with large parts of Warner's. One observer pointed out that with Simon & Schuster's integration into Viacom, it was even possible that the media conglomerate would be a candidate.
Experts said that the sale of Warner Books, which AOL TW would make to reduce some of its debt, might not involve selling the whole trade division, but a smaller transaction such as selling its share of Bookspan to Bertelsmann.
Some even threw out the controversial suggestion that Barnes & Noble might be part of a deal. Earlier in the year, the bookseller copublished a bestseller with Warner, Satisfaction by Kim Cattrall. A call to AOL TW was not returned by press time.